I had part of a class in Fortran under my belt when I dropped out of a small community college in Iowa. I confess to having liked everything about punch cards (except dropping a deck). I can practically smell them, even now, against a fluorescent white background populated by tape drives and printer chatter.
Various adventures claimed my attention for a few years and landed me, unemployed, in Menlo Park with a sketchy background in editing and publishing. I was hauled reluctantly back into technology when the PCC board of directors heard about me: after several meetings at the Peninsula Creamery, a diner in Palo Alto, Dave Caulkins hooked me with a discussion about PCCís "computing power for people" philosophy. They wanted an unbiased editor for Dr. Dobbs Journal, one who would maintain a hallowed space for ideas to thrive, or not, on their own merit. My near-complete technical ignorance apparently qualified me for the job: I had no basis for bias and willingly followed the directive to let a thousand lilies bloom.
The material was so new to me that it was a month or two before I would know for certain if some of those articles, almost laughably over my head, even had a verb and a noun in each sentence! But I was comfortable in the role, I agreed with the philosophy and enjoyed finding words to frame it, and it was fun to facilitate the quasi-heretical communications of computerdomís then-counterculture.
Sometimes dentists would write to us. We would laugh, for reasons a few people will remember, and it never occurred to anyone I knew to ask those dentists what they wanted a computer to do and then make a "product" for that market.
A PCC co-worker and I did a computer-literacy presentation for the local chapter of the American Association of University Women, and had a hard time getting any attendees to sit down and actually touch a keyboard.
PCC's activists took any and every computer to presentations like that and to hands-on childrenís events (revolutionary!), so it was a big deal when the editor got one just for editing Dr. Dobbs Journal and Recreational Computing. Some number crunching and consensus building went into that purchase.
DDJ flourished and circulation doubled, or thereabouts, during my two years as editor. But Recreational Computing was sold to be absorbed by another publication, payroll was dicey, and the free spirits were focused, appropriately enough, on their respective horizons. I eventually disagreed with some board decisions that would greatly influence the subsequent course of DDJ and decided to part company with PCC.
After that, I spent many years editing material primarily about the Forth language, aspects of which I still believe to resonate subtly with the ideals I found at PCC. (Yes, Forth still is around at both .org and .com.)
I now focus on print and web-based communications and creations. Apart from always looking for interesting projects to work on, especially now, I'm still interested in appropriate uses of technology and am concerned about todayís trends away from the ideas we endorsed at PCC.
A few years ago, I was driving across the great plains of the U.S. Midwest to visit friends in a Native American community. From interstate highways to state pavement, onto gravel and then BLM-maintained dirt roads, I felt the kind of calm relief that sometimes comes with distance from bloated, insistent technology.
At last I came to the lone house perched between prairie and badlands. I turned off the engine and listened to the sound of the breeze and horses grazing in the yard behind the clothesline. One of the traditional community's leaders stepped onto the porch and waved me over. "Hey, itís good to see you again. I got e-mail now, but I need you to install it for me."